Timon Moss: Scotland has some catching up to do on community-led housing

Timon Moss, a housing researcher and planner, outlines his vision for a community-led housing model in Scotland, showing real-life examples from the rest of UK and further afield and highlighting legal impediments in Scotland to this model flourishing here

THE Scottish Government is currently consulting on Housing Beyond 2021, a housing strategy intended to provide consistency and sustainable housing delivery over the next 20 years. Scotland needs a vision that will bring community groups into the housing mix and think innovatively as to how it can address the shortfall in affordable housing. My recent research highlighted a need to reassess both Scotland’s approach to self-built housing and community bodies relationship with housing policy.

Housing units built for the majority of the population is a pressing policy problem in Scotland as in the rest of the UK. Since the Localism Act 2011, which launched Community Right to Buy in England and Wales, policymakers have slowly advanced bringing community bodies into the housebuilding mix. This draws on pilot schemes launched by non-profits and cooperative housing associations, based on a financial model of mutual equity-based ownership known as Mutual Home Ownership Societies (MHOS), seen best in the cohousing project LILAC in Leeds

MHOS draws inspiration from a Community Land Trusts in the USA where land is owned in trust by a community body and the freehold is released under the collective interests of its residents, often at prices proportionate to local salaries. Elsewhere, in Germany, non-profit organisations known as ‘Baugruppes’ are achieving long-term affordability and bespoke housing through innovative governance models which allow the community to decide how the neighbourhood invests in itself. The Welsh Government are supporting the Wales Cooperative Centre (WCC) to expand community-led housing construction using similar models. Their aim is to build 20,000 housing units by 2021; this would account for 45 per cent of annual dwelling completions in Wales if realised.  For Scotland, particularly its urban areas, no plans on this scale have been made, although there have been some proposals for implementing similar forms of community ownership. 

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LILAC have been pioneers of this model of Mutual Home Ownership Societies, which allows residents to purchase shares through their lease in a way proportionate to their incomes. This model allows for the price of the housing to be set in proportion to the income of the family, while rewarding wealthier tenants for providing more investment through higher rates of shares. Communities would democratically decide on the management their residences and commonspace. Though the model is currently in its infancy, versions of this have already been applied elsewhere, notably in Stroud and Liverpool (Granby4Streets). 

There are shortfalls with cooperative housing in that it does not address housing to the lowest income members of society in the short-to-medium term, being that the model currently requires early investment and resources that are largely unavailable to those from the most deprived communities. And such models should not replace social housing completely from the housing mix. Community-led housing aims are often along social and environmental sustainability lines, building low-carbon community housing and giving long-term protection to the community body from gentrification and policies such as right-to-buy which hindered the viability for many small-scale housing associations. 

While the exact model seen in LILAC Leeds requires major legislative shifts in Scotland due to the unique nature of its land law, Scottish policymakers need to catch up with the rest of the UK in creating favourable circumstances for community-led housing. Most models rely on a distinction between leasehold and freehold to ensure community ownership is maintained. However, Scottish land law, until recently based on a modernised form of feu payments, has not yet allowed for this distinction.

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My research found that a clause of the Long Leases (Scotland) Act 2012 to grant Community Bodies the right to grant residential leases beyond 20 years could create the legal space to provide meaningful investments for tenants in this new form of housing association. However, there are easier policy focuses to make. Community Land Scotland suggests in a recent report on urban land building a stronger network of third sectors organisations in a manner similar to The CLT Network in England and Wales. The body provides legal and seed capital support to community developments to guide early support. Such bodies need to work with Housing Associations to assist community-level delivery. And with the continued rollout of Community Right to Buy, it’s possible that more opportunities could soon exist. But a housing strategy, possibly with statutory targets, will be needed to encourage more community-built housing. 

Proposals to back community-led approaches to affordable homes featured in the Scottish Greens recent election manifesto. Elsewhere, Labour shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has recently appeared to endorse community land trusts as a means of democratising the sector. Regardless, current responses to issues of home ownership in Scotland remain largely reactive as a result. Such adjustments could assist Scotland’s astonishingly low rate of self-build housing, which remains considerably lower than the European average, and create housing neighbourhoods centred around the needs of the local community.

Picture courtesy of ACME

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